What Women in Technology Means to Me: Benjamin Haas, Software Engineer at Control Group

[This post originally appeared on my company blog here. I am re-posting it here for posterity.]

Hi, I'm Benjamin Haas, and I'm a software engineer and manager at Control Group. I am also a developer advocate, which means that in addition to helping build great products and experiences, I try to ensure that developers have a voice in all company-wide initiatives, projects, and processes. Furthermore, I am involved with our developer community outreach initiative, as we recognize that we are part of a larger group of companies and individuals that are actively working toward the technological transformation of New York City.

One aspect of developer advocacy and outreach that is important for me is being an active part of our Women in Technology program. Gender diversity in the workplace is a goal that I am happy to say I am working toward, and I am joined by a pleasingly well-rounded crew of co-workers.

I grew up in a strongly feminist household in the midwest, where NOW, marches on Washington, and The Dinner Party were mentioned as frequently as homework, the Cleveland Indians, and lake effect snow. My mother was deeply involved in nonprofits, community outreach, and social services for underserved sections of society. Equality and social justice were concepts that permeated my consciousness. And while other kids went to the beach on their winter vacations, I accompanied my mom downtown to her office, and got to work. Just listen to the thrilling tasks I got to do: manual data entry, White Pages address lookups, and fundraising envelope stuffing. What a vacation! It was sure a blast explaining to my classmates why they came back from vacation with tans but I came back with papercuts.

I was too young to be able to protest this conscription, but it ultimately instilled in me a sense of duty. A duty toward putting in the necessary hard work to reach your goals. I learned early on that the old maxim is true: if you want to see change, you have to be that change.

The change I would like to see at this company, and within the tech community at large, is a workplace that reflects the city and world in which we live. At Control Group we create digital experiences that cut across wide swaths of the public arena - airports, subways, museums, parks, offices, and more. We design and build these experiences for all people, regardless of background, gender, persuasion, or favorite subway line. The only way to ensure a high quality experience for all users is to have a team that accurately reflect the user base.

The challenge, then, is to work toward building this diverse team.

I'm hoping that my childhood immersion in coalition building will lend itself to endeavors such as the Coalition for Women in Tech, which Control Group is building in conjunction with NY Tech Meetup and Girl Develop It. This group intends to gather, coordinate, and amplify opportunity-providing resources for women in the local tech industry.

Of course, we are all facing the question: why aren't there more women in the tech industry? We take it as a given that the gender ratio in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions are heavily tilted in favor of men (see this study, for example). What can we collectively as a company do about it? What can I do individually about it?

Currently, academic achievement in STEM has been measured as equal between the genders up until a point during or after high school, when women are more likely than men to leave the field. I would love to be able to work toward leveling this imbalance. One competing theory for this falling off is that women are leaving because they either don't see a place for themselves in the field, or don't feel as if the field is working on issues that are of interest to them (see this article, for example). I'm hoping to be a part of changing both of these perceptions. One specific strategy we are considering is bringing teenagers from local high and junior high schools into our offices on a regular basis, and giving them a chance to see potential career paths. I want to show off our people, our work environment, and most importantly, our rad gear! I want to prove that achieving in STEM does not mean locking yourself into an isolating, joyless job, but can mean building awesome, fun technology that will be used by tons of people.

To that end, I view it as part of my responsibility to help bring about increased gender diversity amongst our developer staff. We're no different than any other tech company in this regard -- we face the same challenges in trying to court women technologists to work here. Over the next year we plan on growing our talent base, and I will be charging myself with finding ways to improve in this area. I want our visitors to see themselves in our faces.

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